Rest & Recover

How can we be more intentional with our rest and recovery and what what can we learn from how athletes and sports people rest and recover that might be useful in our everyday lives.

We can't live our lives with the rev counter constantly in the red zone however that is how we sometimes are asked to work and how we often feel we must behave if we are to keep up. There is huge pressure to be continually "productive" both at work and outside work that often feels like it provides no space to take a breath, a step back, to relax and reflect and, to take a phrase used often by a fairly successful football team, to "Go Again".

As an enthusiastic, bang average, amateur triathlete I've become well used to the "Go Again" attitude that is needed when training for an event that intentionally makes the whole process 3 times as hard as any normal sport. When training for the longer distances (half ironman in my case) the training schedule is packed, you have to be productive every day, regularly doing more than one training session in a day. But to believe it is just a case of increasing the intensity until race day is to misread your training schedule and to misunderstand how you get the best performance out of yourself. And it is this I am interested in exploring because I think the way that the best athletes train and particularly how they rest might be really useful for our normal everyday lives.

A month or so ago this became suddenly very real to me, I had been luckily able to continue to exercise regularly as the UK went into lockdown in March and took the opportunity of some amazing weather and a sudden reduction in work to increase the amount of training I was able to do. It was fab, I was flying, I ignored any of the training schedules I had and I just went for it, harder and harder, feeling fitter and fitter. Until something broke...without any warning I strained a hamstring. Not badly, just a mild strain, but a strain nonetheless...and I was pretty peeved.

Once I had taken a day or so to stop being annoyed and look at what had actually happened it was clear that I had overtrained, not paid enough attention to rest and recovery and I had paid the price. Luckily the strain was only mild and I was back on the bike within a week. But what should I have been doing to recover and what had I ignored and forgotten from all the training programmes that I pore over whilst I'm putting off doing the actual training (or some household chore more likely).

1, Have a goal - This might seem a bit counter intuitive, how can having a goal help with rest and recovery? Well whilst my motivation to train was really high during lockdown I didn't have a specific goal and this meant that I wasn't able to see the whole journey ahead and so plan my whole effort, including the breaks. I was free to just train...but without the discipline of a target that training didn't have an end point and didn't have the necessary structure. So having a goal is important because it helps us to plan our entire effort towards our goal, it helps us to factor in space for making all the gains we want AND fitting in the rest and recovery we need to do too.

Remember it's not a straight line, it's a number of layered cycles

Lets start with the biggest cycle first...the whole nearly every sport I can think of this will be made up of a number of seasons with the challenge to be to improve season on season or to maintain high levels season on season. Then there is the season, which will have some main events in it that which will be made up Football season, Athletics seasons, Cycling calendar

3, The building blocks...and this is the bit i think is most interesting

Monthly Blocks - a block of 4-6 weeks - intensity of the entire block can increase gradually but will include at some stage a block of a few weeks at a much lower intensity (like a long summer holiday) see this post from Roy Lilley

Weekly Blocks - each weekly training block's intensity can increase, but there will be weeks within every 6 week block that are much lower intensity

Daily Blocks - each day the intensity (and activity in triathlon) will vary and there will be days every week that are for rest and recovery

And so we get 3 different types of rest

Something big...a few weeks together...maybe up to 4 weeks...probably only happens once a year, really get away from it, able to get back really refreshed, with renewed enthusiasm, having been able to reflect from a metaphorical distance.

Something regular...a whole week...once every 6 weeks or really switch off from the usual work and to reflect, rest and recover. my good friend Ian Pettigrew ( recently wrote about his own 7th week sabbatical

Remember the weekends

and there should be a flow to every day, you can't & recovery isn't the absence of work. The sessions that are marked for recovery for athletes are seldom idle times